training camp in the Jura.

Skiwalking in the Swiss Jura. (Photo: Roli Eggspühler)

Coming from North America, I often think that the other side of whatever country I’m in is very, very far away.

Happily, here in Switzerland things are a little closer together. I live in Zürich and while the nearest big mountains are at least an hour away, nothing is very far. Going south or southwest through the Alps takes a few hours, but driving across the Swiss Plateau to the French border is easier.

A few weeks ago I was able to take part in a training camp in Les Cernets, which is on the border with France. Literally, after dropping our bags off at the inn where we were staying, Fabian and I ran up a hill a few kilometers and peered into the European Union. We followed a well-marked trail and there was a small monument at the top of the height of land. Anyone could take this route into France, although of course you have to get into Switzerland first, which is no easy feat.

(Certainly there was no border station on our running trail; even the one on the main road in Les Verrières, the bigger town, appeared to be minimally manned and just waved cars through without stopping.)

The camp I joined was with the Swiss Academic Ski Team (SAS), a group of college and older athletes. Once you are a member (I’m not), you’re a member for life, so a few masters-aged athletes also join us and sometimes kick our butts.

cowsAt camps we train hard, double sessions a day like the pros, but only for a few days. I can’t speak for the others, but for myself, I then go back to work, train fairly minimally, and engage in magical thinking to assure myself that these few days will somehow make a difference come winter…

Ironically, the team doesn’t have any athletes I’ve met so far from the French part of Switzerland. But in an effort for geographic fairness and also to keep things new and interesting, we went there.

We spent three days in the Jura mountains. It’s at the same time remote and not remote; growing up in the Upper Valley of New Hampshire and Vermont, I felt right at home. The area is a mix of farms and forest, with some small homestead always hidden behind the next roll of the hill. But the city of Neuchâtel isn’t far, and in no time at all you are back on the big lake, feeling like you’re in metropolitan Switzerland.

There are a lot of dairy farms in the Jura. We missed, by just a few days, the annual festival where the cows walk from the high meadows down to town with flowers braided around their horns. On the main road you can find an unmanned, automated cheese vending machine with the local wares.

morningThis is the region that absinthe comes from, and you can imagine perfectly how even when it was outlawed, production continued just the same. There are infinite places to hide things and you can’t travel too fast on the country roads. All you need to do is call your neighbor to warn him someone was coming, and he could take care of his materials no problem.

The mascot of the Val de Travers region of Canton Neuchâtel region is a small green fairy, and it is plastered everywhere.

Come to the grocery store! With the absinthe fairy.

Take the train! With the absinthe fairy.

Stay at our hotel! With the absinthe fairy.

Here’s some highway information! With the absinthe fairy.

On our last night we tried some absinthe, which probably ruined our training effect. We stuck to one glass each and, it turns out, did not see the absinthe fairy. Shoot, I’ll have to try some again some other time.

creux du van 1But about that training effect: the Jura is a great place to train. There are tons of trails through the forest, some of which are ski trails. Les Cernets is connected to hundreds of kilometers of ski trails, including a few long point-to-point trails like the 65 k Franco-Suisse loop, where you can do inn-to-inn touring. I can’t wait to come explore in the winter.

Jogging the farm roads in the morning through the fog felt mystical. And in the forest, clearings, bogs, and other areas are given fairy-tale names painted on old, peeling signs.

I was also thrilled to return to Creux du Van, a huge rock cliff formation which I had hiked with a friend in the spring. The closest thing I can compare it to is Cannon cliffs in New Hampshire – if you made Cannon much more even and bent it in a gently arching bowl around the valley. And plopped a picturesque farm and some happily grazing cows on top.

Creux du Van speaks to almost everyone, I think. My housemate told me that being up there, with hundreds of meters of empty space in front of you and birds playing on the wind, gives you power.

Sometimes that kind of phrase can sound woo-woo, but when you stand on Creux du Van, it’s not inaccurate.

rollerskiing 2But that’s not why we came to the Jura. A short drive into France is a rollerski loop at the Stade Florence Baverel in Arçon. So every day we would drive to France to ski.

(Inaugurated in 2009, the venue is named after the French gold medalist from the 2006 Olympics. You can also rollerski around the biathlon stadium in Le Seigne, a bit south in the Département Doubs, but we didn’t check it out. Prémanon, the training site for the French national team, is also only an hour away.)

The center has a nice biathlon range, a few kilometers of paved trails to train on. I would describe it as if John Morton had been given the assignment to design some kilometers of trail, but only given half the space that he’s usually given in North America. (After all, there’s less space for basically everything in Europe.) And, in this scenario he was also denied vital information about the length of classic rollerski shafts.

So it was with some trepidation that I first set out around the course. I’m not a particularly timid downhill skier, but the turns are, umm, very tight – and there’s a pretty decent height differential given the tiny postage stamp of land the center is crammed onto, so you come into them with momentum.

There were posters all over the main building for the French biathlon festivals hosted at the venue. I was trying to imagine mass start or even pursuit racing on such narrow trails with such sharp corners. I pictured carnage. I’m interested to try to find video of how it actually works.

That said, once I’d made a few trips around the loop, I wasn’t nervous and instead the twists and turns just made for super fun skiing. One corner was still a little dicey on classic skis, but on skate skis you can tear around with little fear of serious repercussions, at least if you don’t get tangled up with someone else.

It’s an excellent, and tough, loop for intervals. There’s not much recovery because the downhills are short and technical, so you’re always on your toes. And with limited places to easily pass, it’s good practice for rubbing elbows and making tactical choices in where to use your speed… for instance, before the beginning of the next downhill!

I was a bit sad to go back to Zürich and work, and away from the Jura and Doubs regions which seem to be a perfect playground for training in summer and winter.

berglauf racing.

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On the advice of a friend, I signed up for an event outside of Zürich called the 5-Tage Berglauf Cup.

That means, in English, the 5-day mountain running cup. It was organized by a local ski club and featured five days of racing from small villages up to the top of hills in the Zürich Oberland, a rolling region of farms and rivers to the east of Zürich itself.

By the Monday that the series was about to start, I realized that things might not be as easy as I thought. Fabian, who had told me about the series in the first place and had done it many times, wasn’t able to come to any of the races after all.

And things are measured in meters here, not in feet as they are in the United States. So when a five-kilometer race has 500 meters of elevation gain, that doesn’t seem like so much… until I thought about what 500 meters really is. 1600 feet. A lot of topo lines all piled on top of each other on a map.

On top of that, I had just gotten back from a three-day training camp in the Jura mountains on the Swiss-French border. I don’t train full-time – I am doing a PhD and hold a part-time job! So I only do these “training camps” with a group of other skiers three times a year or so. When that happens, all of a sudden I’m training twice a day, usually with one session of intervals and one a long recovery workout. It really takes it out of me.

I stood on the start line on Monday, not knowing a single other person at the race, and I didn’t feel so great. And I definitely, definitely, only felt worse once we started climbing.

I felt like I had made a huge mistake, as a member of the Bluth family might say.

At the end of the day, as I was running down from the finish (no transportation is provided, so you have a handy compulsory cool-down unless you make friends with someone whose family drove a car up) I wondered whether to continue or bag the whole thing.

Those five kilometers had been hard, not fun. It was hot and humid and I could wring the sweat from my tank top after just over half an hour of racing. I tried to eat a granola bar but it wasn’t going down.

Tired from the weekend, I hadn’t been able to push myself, get my heart rate very high, or even have much of a killer instinct at the finish, where the next person in front of me was a 62-year-old man.

(Which, by the way, is awesome. You go, guy!)

My dreams of an age-group podium were definitely gone and I knew that I’d be in for a world of pain. I think that I often sign up for races because I believe that going hard will make me feel fit, but this did not make me feel fit!

There are plenty of Swiss people who never, ever run up a mountain. But for those who are interested in running up mountains, there’s lots of places to practice and, well, they are pretty expert.

As I neared the bottom of the hill and the bus stop where I’d start my hour-and-a-half ride back to my apartment via public transportation, I caught up with a middle-aged guy running backwards and sideways, clearly trying to stretch out his legs after the steep run downhill.

“We made it!” I said, holding up my hand for a high five.

I don’t think high-fiving is a universal behavior in Switzerland, and he let me hang.

But we started chatting, and when I stopped at the bus station, he asked where I was going. Did I need a ride? Zürich wasn’t too far out of his way.

My long bus and train ride home was cut to a pleasant 30-minute drive, and my new friend said that “This was the worst one.” By the time I got home, I had decided that I would race the rest of the week. After all, not showing up for a race you paid for seems like chickening out, and I may be slow, but I don’t want to be a chicken.

So the week rolled along. I felt a bit better on day two, and had even a good day on day three (good enough that I almost puked at the finish…). My friend Joseph had told me he would come race that day if we had a beer afterward, but then he backed out. So what? I was hooked on this mountain running thing!

(And Thursday I took as a day off, since only your best four results from the five-day series are scored in the cup.)

I ended up racing up 6,000 feet in elevation in four days, with an average grade of 9.5%. As the week went on, fewer 55-year-old women and teenagers beat me. If there’s one strength of cross-country skiers, it’s that we are tough and can take the hits in grueling race series.

I was proud to have finished the Cup, especially after sweating all day in my unventilated seventh-floor office in the midst of one of Europe’s worst heat waves ever. Not exactly good race prep.

For those of us with day jobs, maybe we enter races for glory. But in the end we finish them for the satisfaction of doing so. Dropping out is not an option, and crossing the finish line is an accomplishment something that most of our coworkers will never be able to boast about.

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first big-girl paper!

In case you missed my facebook/twitter/researchgate/everything blitz, I finally published my first first-authored paper! It is in Oecologia, a good general ecology journal. I’m really happy and proud of myself, and a number of people have told me that this paper you’ll be happiest and most satisfied to publish, ever. I’m certainly enjoying the new addition to my CV.

Here’s a link to the paper, and here’s an abstract:

“Alpine plant communities are predicted to face range shifts and possibly extinctions with climate change. Fine-scale environmental variation such as nutrient availability or snowmelt timing may contribute to the ability of plant species to persist locally; however, variation in nutrient availability in alpine landscapes is largely unmeasured. On three mountains around Davos, Switzerland, we deployed Plant Root Simulator probes around 58 Salix herbacea plants along an elevational and microhabitat gradient to measure nutrient availability during the first 5 weeks of the summer growing season, and used in situ temperature loggers and observational data to determine date of spring snowmelt. We also visited the plants weekly to assess performance, as measured by stem number, fruiting, and herbivory damage. We found a wide snowmelt gradient which determined growing season length, as well as variations of an order of magnitude or more in the accumulation of 12 nutrients between different microhabitats. Higher nutrient availability had negative effects on most shrub performance metrics, for instance decreasing stem number and the proportion of stems producing fruits. High nutrient availability was associated with increased herbivory damage in early-melting microhabitats, but among late-emerging plants this pattern was reversed. We demonstrate that nutrient availability is highly variable in alpine settings, and that it strongly influences performance in an alpine dwarf shrub, sometimes modifying the response of shrubs to snowmelt timing. As the climate warms and human-induced nitrogen deposition continues in the Alps, these factors may contribute to patterns of local plants persistence.”

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more sports commentary.

I spent a lot of the weekend working on a story about the International Olympic Committee bidding process that led to Beijing being awarded the 2022 Winter Olympics. I think it might be the best thing I’ve written! But I think that’s the exhaustion and euphoria speaking. (Update: I also published a different version at the Valley News, which greatly benefitted from some editorial help by Greg Fennell. Thanks Greg, I definitely need editing, and gives me a glimpse of how much better my stuff could be!)

You always feel that way after you deliver a big piece: unsure if it’s correct, terrified of small mistakes, but sure it’s awesome. That feeling fades. But right now I have the journalism hangover. I even wrote multiple drafts of this, which I am ashamed to admit I don’t usually do.

Please go read the piece, “IOC Membership and Regulations Combined to Reliably Hand Beijing 2022 Games,” here.

Here are some fun infographics I made to promote it.

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Beijing vote infographic 1

vienna trip.

austria

A few weeks ago I turned 28. That means I’m entering my 29th year. That means I’m almost 30! Ack!

I realized shortly before my birthday that actually, I have not traveled much outside of Switzerland since arriving here. I suppose my masters was so travel-heavy that I was facing exploration-exhaustion by the time I started my PhD. So I went to Sweden for World Championships for a few days, to Tenerife for vacation, and that was it for my first nine months living in central Europe.

I think I was ready to rebegin. So I booked a plane ticket to Vienna, a city I had never been to and, frankly, didn’t have as many ideas about as probably I should have. I don’t remember much about the Austro-Hungarian empire from my middle-school history classes (and we certainly didn’t learn about them in high school, where history was hands-down the worst department of them all), and I had very little 20th-century history either. I guess the most I knew about Vienna came through music; after all, I played classical piano.

Unfortunately the 4th-of-July weekend in central Europe was smack in the middle of this horrendous heat wave, which is possibly the worst in the last 150 years depending on where you look. In Switzerland I think it’s still slightly behind the 2003 wave, but close; in Germany, the highest temperature ever recorded in the country was measured in Kitzingen.

So I didn’t end up spending a lot of time outside in Vienna. But a lot of time in museums with air conditioning. Here are some highlights of the trip.

1. Friedensreich Hundertwasser

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One of my favorite discoveries is something I wouldn’t have even known about if my friend Knut, who had spent a month living in Vienna this spring, hadn’t told me to look for it. Friedensreich Hundertwasser was an architect and artist, and several of his biggest public projects are in Vienna. Technically, he lived in Vienna most of his life, but the guy’s itinerary went around the world multiple times!

Above is the city’s hot water heating plant, designed by Hundertwasser. Imagine going to work there every day. Pretty cool. It was the first Hundertwasser site I saw, and I was hooked.

Later I went to the Hundertwasser museum, called the Kunst Haus Wien, housed in a building he designed with lots of tile and old planks on the floor and some trees growing inside. I saw some of the other art, including very, very cool paintings and prints. So much color, working with gold leaf, working creatively. Hundertwasser had a philosophy of sustainability and world peace through every part of life. That comes through in his art.

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One of the first things I saw in the museum was a large poster. On one side was a tall photo of Hundertwasser: 1928-2000. On the other side was a photo of a tree: Hundertwasser 2000-2015. The artist was buried on his land in New Zealand and a tree was planted over his body. That tree grows on. It’s not a completely original idea, but it was so forceful to see the tree and the man placed right next to each other that it nearly bowled me over in its poeticism.

You can learn more about Hundertwasser on this website.

2. The Natural History Museum

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The Habsburg empire included a lot of men (and some women) who were extremely interested in science. As the empire grew, samples of plants, animals, and fossils were sent back to Europe; Austrians also explored by sea and land as the worldview of Europeans expanded. The collection in Vienna is, well, extensive. It encompasses more than 30 million objects.

In all science museums, the collection is actually much larger than what can be displayed. That’s of course true of Vienna’s natural history museum as well. But they do have a huge, ornate building to house the collection in, purpose-built to show off Austria’s treasures.

My housemate Geri suggested that I visit the museum, saying she could spend “days” there. I could as well. It was awesome. A few small notes, not necessarily my favorite things that I saw, but cute ones that photographed well:

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In a collection about the history of the Austrian university research system, there was a display of models of ocean creatures made out of glass. Yes, that’s right, glass. A team of incredibly talented glassblowers capitalized on the fact that translucent organisms don’t always look that cool when stored in alcohol, can’t be dried, and can be hard to draw. The results are incredible – and also accurate and informative.

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Finally, I always love the connection between birds and dinosaurs. It’s a fun one to make. Glad the curators capitalized on this. In the same exhibition room were some dinosaur fossils and skeletons and an animatronic dinosaur! Here’s a video (not by me).

3. A Special Exhibition. Also in the museum was a special exhibition of large-format black and white photographs of bison. Taken by Heidi and Hans-Jurgen Koch, a pair of German artist/photographers, they were paired with text and it was a revelation. At first it was strange to look and think about buffalo and learn from a pair of people who didn’t grow up with the same legends of the American west as I did. Can they possibly really get it? I was almost offended. But on the other hand, skipping some of the mythicism and the rewriting of history that always happens in our educational system. It was an amazing display.

You can see some of the photos in an online gallery from Der Spiegel. Although there’s something missing when you’re not looking at gorgeous prints in the flesh, so to speak, they are amazing.

You can buy the book of their work, called Buffalo Ballads, on Amazon. (It’s also at Powell’s, which I usually recommend, but it’s on backorder there. Still, here’s the page)

4. The Leopold. I went to a lot of museums. I really enjoyed the Leopold, which focuses in particular on Egon Schiele, an artist I was not familiar with. I liked his work, and also particularly liked the way it was presented: with lots and lots of context. The museum is based on an extensive private collection, and the building was built fairly recently so there’s lots of space. There are displays of Schiele’s personal correspondence, photos of different places he had lived, and information about his relationships and the culture in Vienna at the time.

Learn more about Schiele here.

There’s some other nice art from the early 20th century as well.

5. The Museum of Art History (Kunsthistorisches Museum)

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Just across the park from the natural history museum is an identical building which houses much of the Habsburgs’ art. The paintings are great; the architecture is amazing.

I spent more time, though, wandering around the Kunstkammer, rooms that housed collections of objects owned by the Hapsburgs. Some of it was straight-up art, procured by the royals or gifted to them. But a lot were not paintings. The top photo here is a calculator! A calculator. As mentioned, the Habsburgs really liked science, technology, and progress. There’s a great collection of clocks, navigational tools, and other nifty things. All gold-plated, of course.

And lots of dishes, table ornaments, jewelery, and other stuff. As I walked around, I kept thinking, wow. Those Habsburgs though.

6. Belvedere

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That feeling only continued when I went to the Belvedere Palace. Crazy, they were.

Also I really enjoyed the Gustav Klimt exhibit there, although I wish there had been more of it. It was advertised all over Vienna as “KLIMT AT THE BELVEDERE!” !!! WOOWW OMG !!!! But… I wanted it to keep going.

7. Wiener Schitzel. There’s much good Wiener schitzel to be had in Vienna. Have some. I found mine at Finkh, a great restaurant in an off-the-path location. I recommend it: besides the great schnitzel, I had a great seasonal summer salad with halloumi cheese and avocado, and they also had Augustiner beer, my favorite from Munich! I didn’t even need a reservation, even though it’s a small restaurant which was written up in the New York Times.

8. Running to the Danube

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It was hot as hell. I didn’t run for the first two days I was there. On the last day, I steeled myself to do it. A canal runs through (ish) Vienna, but I really wanted to see the Danube River itself. So I ran a few kilometers out of the city to have a look. It was cool. There are nice paths along the canal to run or bike or rollerskate (yup, saw some of that).

9. Karl Marx Hof

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I started this list with some architecture, so I might as well end it with some, too. I went to take a look at the Karl Marx Hof, a massive socialist housing project from the 1930s. Seeing a few photos online, I wasn’t expecting to find it very interesting. After all, the idea of living in a building that stretches several blocks, continuously, all connected, gives me feelings of physical revulsion. I’m a country girl! That’s not my style!

But actually, the project was really cool. The interior parks and courts would be lovely places to spend time, and the people living in apartments had really embraced what could have been quite a sterile space. It seemed organic and quirky in a way that you would never expect if you looked only at the architectural plans.

female bodies in motion.

The New York Times recently ran an article about body image in female athletes. Its title: “Tennis’s Top Women Balance Body Image With Ambition“.

I hated it from the start. I know a lot of female athletes, and I can’t think of a discussion I have ever had with any of them about balancing body image with ambition. Do they have ambition? Yes. Do they have issues with body image? Sometimes. But never have I heard an elite athlete say that they were not doing x thing that would probably make them more competitive, because it would make them feel less attractive or less feminine. Ambition and insecurity can coexist. After all, humans are complex.

The article got a lot of hate immediately, mostly because it focused particularly on Serena Williams. Williams is the greatest female player currently on tour, and likely of all time. She’s also incredibly strong. Throughout her career, people have labeled her as a big scary black woman. I am not actually a huge Serena fan, but regardless of whether you are a fangirl or not, it’s plain to see that the racism she has faced is atrocious.

(And besides, she’s not that big. Look at a picture of her off the tennis court and see if you can even tell what all the fuss is about.)

I’m not going to talk about how race was featured in the most recent NYT article. Others have done that much more intelligently and eloquently than I possibly could. Here’s a few examples: Huffington Post; A Tribe Called News; The Daily Beast; I am sure there are other better essays, too.

At first, I couldn’t even articulate why the article disgusted me so much, but the general reason was that I thought it was extremely unfair and disrespectful of female athletes. An article about conforming to conventional standards of attractiveness would very seldom be written about male athletes.

After mulling it over, I’ve come up with some more concrete and specific reasons that I was so enraged by the author’s treatment of female athletes. Here’s a rundown.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All. First of all, the article implies that any female tennis player could have a body like Serena’s if she wanted to. That isn’t true… at least not without performance-enhancing drugs. Some of us put on weight and muscle more easily, while others do not.

This is not to say that Serena didn’t achieve her physique by a lot of hard work (although she’s quoted as saying that it is simply her body type, and she doesn’t lift weights). But for some people – men and women, not just white female tennis players! – a body like that would be difficult if not impossible to achieve naturally, without being a full-time job requiring major cuts to other training time, and might even result in injury. Not to mention, making drastic changes to one’s body requires parallel changes in technique/skill at the same time in order to be able to take advantage of added power.

Furthermore, it might not even be a good idea.

There is more than one way to be an excellent athlete, more than one body type you can have. I read and loved David Epstein’s book The Sports Gene, and in it he writes about how certain length ratios or body attributes are more or less required to be the best at certain sports. He’s not wrong.

And yet… take a look at this image, from the women’s 800 meter run at the 2012 London Olympics. None of these women have a lot of fat on their bodies. The are all lean, but with varying amounts of muscle.

I saw at least one person on twitter draw a parallel to my sport, cross-country skiing. One commenter said that in multiple sports women are now winning “with more strength” and showed a picture of Marit Bjørgen. Yep, she’s strong. But the second-best woman in the world, Therese Johaug, is tiny. Muscular, but much tinier. And some days, she kicks Marit’s ass. Here’s a picture of them running together; here’s a picture of them skiing together. Nobody’s saying that it’s impossible to be the best skier without having Bjørgen’s body, or that Johaug is a copout for not trying.

Like Williams, Bjørgen is not as big as she’s made out to be. Having met her in person, she’s still small – something that people lose track of when watching sports on television because the focus is always to fill the same, making tall and short people sometimes seem the same size. I bet she weighs less than I do.

Agnieszka Radwanska’s coach said in the NYT article that “It’s our decision to keep her as the smallest player in the top 10.” That may very well be because her play is adapted to being light. She’s one of the ten best tennis players in the world, right? Should we really be questioning her decisions about her body composition? It obviously works!

Correlation, Not Causation. I’m impressed that the author got as many top athletes to talk, on the record, about their insecurities with their bodies. I remember another article published in NYT, at the Sochi Olympics, about biathlon’s penalty loop. I thought it was a great article. It had a different author, but I imagine the strategy was the same: go to a lot of top athletes and ask them the same relatively short set of questions about a single topic. See what interesting responses you get.

I’m not surprised that female athletes have body image challenges. Every woman does. The standards we are held to by the media, advertising, and entertainment industries are ridiculous. It’s hard not to end up ashamed of some part(s) of your body.

But just because some of the women said this much, does not mean that the reason they are not bigger and bulkier is in fact because of those insecurities. For instance: Maria Sharapova, who was quoted as saying she doesn’t like the gym and doesn’t want to be bigger, also said that “for my sport, I just feel like it’s unnecessary.”

Sharapova is currently the second-ranked woman on the tennis tour. She has multiple Grand Slam victories. She talks about wanting to be slim and wishing she had less cellulite; she also talks about how it’s not necessary for her to gain more muscle for competition. Why focus only on the former? Why not also the latter?

In fact, the only person in the article quoted as directly linking weight/muscle with femininity is Radwanska’s coach, who said that he wants to keep Radwanska “a woman”. Ouch.

It wasn’t Radwanska herself who said it. No, Radwanska noted that gaining muscle might hurt her speed, and anyway that would be tough to do: “I also have the genes where I don’t know what I have to do to get bigger, because it’s just not going anywhere.”

So, did the players even make this connection between wanting to be feminine and being unable to beat Serena? Or did the author take quotes about body image, and tie them into a piece about how nobody is trying to be like Serena? I am genuinely curious what the reaction of the quoted athletes is to this piece, and whether they feel like they were misrepresented.

And, also, the newspaper didn’t treat these insecurities with very much respect. A German player, Andrea Petkovic, confided that she hates seeing photos of herself hitting two-handed backhands because she thinks her arms look so sinewy and grotesque. The NYT helpfully printed just such a photo below the quote.

(Petkovic was not quoted as saying anything about whether she is still trying to add muscle or not, and if not, why not. She only commented on her current body image and insecurities.)

The Steroid Era, And The Current Era. This is really a side note but… the article seems to frame Serena’s body as something new and crazy in women’s sports, that other women are just too scared to emulate. Newsflash: we have seen big, muscle-bound women before. It was called the steroid era. Does nobody remember the East Germans? The Soviets? Heck, the Americans? Then, stronger anti-doping policy and improved testing came along. Athletes slimmed down again to some extent.

But only to some extent. Currently many track and field athletes, of all races and ethnicities, are bulked up. In some cases (maybe in a lot of cases, depending on how cynical you are) this is because of doping. In some cases it’s because of hard work. Serena is not the only successful female athlete out there with a lot of muscle. She’s not an alien, she’s not a revelation (well, she’s a revelation on the tennis court though!). Why are we talking about this again?

Disrespect for Serena’s Other Strengths. This ties more into the racism issues that have been brought up around this article, but it’s worth noting that it’s not merely muscle that wins Williams titles. It’s her tennis game. She has had periods where she is less fit; typically she does not win as consistently then. Her fitness, skills, and, perhaps above all, her incredible mental strength, also power her to wins. A physically strong Serena without the mental edge doesn’t win.

Body is not the only thing that makes an athlete. Just because people like to ogle women’s bodies, let’s not forget that when we talk about female athletes. Women have to have the complete package to the same extent that male athletes do.

Lack of Dedication. Finally, and perhaps this is where I feel female athletes were most disrespected, by framing the issue in this way – that any female athlete could achieve Serena’s body type if she wanted, but most choose not to – it paints those “other” athletes as less dedicated or less hard-working. They are skipping gym time because they don’t want to be too muscle-bound, and the author implies that they are lazy. There’s an unflattering quote from Maria Sharapova saying that she hates lifting and it’s hard work.

But time in the gym is not the only kind of training there is. I can’t speak for every single athlete, of course, but I’m certain that most of the women quoted, and in fact most on the women’s tennis tour, train just as much and just as hard as Serena. They just might not do it in the gym. There are multiple ways to get good. Some might do more cardio work; others speed workouts or agility and footwork; still others might spend even more hours on court perfecting their skills.

Writing that they choose not to lift weights because they want to remain feminine is not only wrong for all of the reasons listed above, but makes women seem lazy instead of pointing out that rather than going to the spa in that extra time, they likely sink it into some other form of training.

Wrapping up… Back to the issue of why we are even talking about female athletes’ bodies. The NYT editorial staff backpedaled the article hard, with an opinion piece by the public editor, Margaret Sullivan, stating that she was concerned with the piece.

It contained this nugget:

“Well aware of the criticism, Mr. Stallman said he still found the topic worthwhile: ‘In covering sports, we can’t not write about women’s bodies.’ And, he said, male athletes come in for scrutiny, too, citing a front-page article just last week on Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon, focused on his 285-pound body, up about 100 pounds from 1997 when he joined the major leagues.”

Um…. two things here. Is it unfortunate that Colón (and speaking of being sensitive, there NYT, I added the accent back on his name for you) is being shamed for being a large man on the front page of a newspaper? Yes. If Colón is good at baseball, then his weight shouldn’t matter to his team. And outside of people who are paying him a salary to be an excellent athlete, it shouldn’t matter to the universe in general if Colón is a gaining weight.

But… weighing 285 pounds is a little different than being Serena Williams, who is an extremely cut, lean, muscular woman. Criticizing a baseball player for being fat when, actually, he is fat (there, I said it) is totally different than calling a lean, muscular athlete “too big”.

And furthermore, the Colon article is an outlier. Women’s bodies face far more scrutiny and discussion in the sports media than men’s bodies do. Citing one article about Bartolo Colón does not change that.

And secondly, oh really? We can’t not write about women’s bodies? Is that so?

I revisited the article that the NYT wrote about the Women’s World Cup final: the most-watched soccer game, men’s or women’s, ever in the United States, and likely one of the top 30 or so most-watched sporting events of the year. So, a big deal.

It did not contain a single description of the bodies of any of the U.S. or Japanese players. (It did contain a reference to the iconic Brandi Chastain photo from the 1999 World Cup).

Instead, it described what those bodies did. One body sliced a shot, ran onto a pass, and launched a shot. Another backpedaled and reached.

This is how we should talk about female athletes’ bodies.

braunwald hike.

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It has been a little while. Sorry. Oops. I’ve been busy, but when am I ever not? Sometimes I still find the time to write. Other times I don’t. I guess this was one of the “don’t”s.

Let’s see. I was doing fieldwork and lab experiments, for one thing. I also went to Lausanne to cover the International Olympic Committee meetings and candidate city presentations by Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Beijing, China, each of whom want to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. It was quite the experience in a lot of ways and I think it might shape how I approach reporting in the future.

One thing I particularly enjoyed was being a bit more editorial. IOC-speak is cloaked in code and references. I felt that in order to convey any information at all, I had to decode that PR-speak for my readers. That meant a lot of contextualizing. So I figured, why not go for it? And I threw in some opining as well. Here are a few of the results:

Six Big Problems With the Beijing 2022 Olympic Bid

By Severing Ties, Bach Kills SportAccord; IOC Carries Full Weight of Sport’s Future & Reform

Almaty 2022 Bid Fights Back; A Games With Real Snow Still Possible

On the whole, the new approach seemed to be enjoyed by readers. But now it’s back to “normal” FasterSkier operations. And more importantly, normal PhD operations. I spend 4 or more hours a day, every other day, counting amphipods in the basement laboratory where there is not even a window for sunlight. On one hand, this is nice, as my office has no cooling system and it can get pretty hot in there. In the basement? No problem. On the other hand, though, we are finally having some nice summer weather and I’m trapped in a basement.

There had been a lot going on, so I decided to take this weekend truly to recover. On Saturday I went for a long rollerski, which tired me out so much I had to take a nap. Sunday I reserved for hiking. I had been trying to fit in a hike the previous two weekends, but the weather just didn’t cooperate. Finally, I had my window.

I took the train out of Zürich and up the Glarus valley almost all the way to Linthal. Taking the train to go hiking on Sundays reminds me of one reason that I love Switzerland.

The train is full: young people, old people. Rich (ish) people, poor (ish) people. People with walking sticks, people with babies in backpacks. Thin people, chubby people, people with knee replacements. People with husbands, people with school friends. Every kind of person is on the train. The things that unite them are their hiking boots and their Mammut expedition pants that probably zip off into shorts.

At each stop up the Glarus valley, a handful or two of people get off the train, backpacks slung over their shoulders and a bright look in their eyes (unless they are teenagers with their parents, then they still look sullen). There are dozens of different trails to explore. And the Swiss explore them.

I’m not sure that I have ever, in the U.S., felt this sense of community and solidarity between people going to do something outdoors. For one thing, we all drive our cars because public transport generally doesn’t even go to the places we want to get to. So as we hurtle towards our day’s adventure, we are insulated from all but our closest friends or family. But for another thing, rarely in the U.S. does such a large cross section of society all end up hiking on the same trail system, exchanging very quiet pleasantries (maximum, three words) as they pass each other.

I finally got off at Linthal Braunwaldbahn, the second-to-last stop on the Linthal line. An especially large number of people got off here too. They were waiting for the Braunwaldbahn, a funicular that runs up the steep mountainside to the village of Braunwald, perched on a plateau above the valley and inaccessible to cars.

No cars!

pure nature – no cars – real winter” is one of their slogans. I love it.

I did not take the funicular, instead hiking up about two and a half kilometers of steep but thankfully shady forest trail.

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Then I came to Braunwald, which wasn’t really what I was expecting. The community is quite large – a lot of summer and winter vacation homes and a few farms scattered across the plateau. (Wikipedia lists the population as 308, which okay, is not a lot, but it’s still at least 200 more than I would have guessed…) Limited electricity; lots of solar panels. There were horse-drawn wagons, street signs, gardens. There were ski lifts criss-crossing everywhere. There were a lot of people and lot of potted plants flowering along the streets.

I walked from the top of the funicular up through the houses and towards the top of one of the ski lifts, which thankfully wasn’t running in the summer (others are). I began to leave people behind, more or less, and it began to get quieter. Okay, so maybe this wasn’t the place to find solitude, but I re-evaluated. This wasn’t bad.

And if you wanted to have a farm, why not have it here? The Swiss government will subsidize you for your hardship.

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At the top of the ski lift, I found a crowd eating at the restaurant, but I also found the Panoramaweg, a nine-kilometer loop trail which was actually what I had come for. After hiking up five kilometers and probably 3,000 feet, I finally got to the “start” of my hike.

It was incredible. It was quieter – I probably saw as many cows as people, although still more people than I would have expected – and for a long time I was primarily jutting through forest, spotting the snowy mountains across the valley every time there was a meadow opening. But then I turned a corner and caught my breath: an amazing peak was just before me.

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The next few kilometers of the loop were simply spectacular, surrounded by amazing views at every turn.

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Seriously, get a look at the cool geometry of that geology.

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I didn’t know much about Canton Glarus before moving to Zürich. I was snobby. I thought of Graubünden, home of Davos and the Engadin and Lenzerheide and most of all haunts from 2013, was the best thing ever. I’m not saying it’s not. But besides the mountains that I got to see close up today, there was simply a dizzying array of peaks receding into the background. It felt so good to be in the mountains today, up high, breathing cool air with a breeze drying out my sweaty shirt.

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Also, the trail itself was pretty cool. At one point it went into a tunnel. Who, when building a hiking trail, says “it would be easier to just hollow out this huge unavoidable rock instead of going around it”? The Swiss, that’s who!

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(This is just the beginning of the tunnel, with one gallery/window opening you can see. It actually wraps around the the left with two more windows chiseled in, and complete with a dank interior and water dripping from the ceiling.)

After making my loop and then hiking back down the super-steep forest access trail, I arrived just in time to catch the train back to Zürich. Perfect.

I’m tired, but I feel a little more ready to tackle the week after clearing my head with 4,000 feet of climbing and a lot of great scenery.

The message of today’s experience? “People live/hike here” doesn’t necessarily mean that, sans solitude, it can’t be a great place to go. All those people wanted to hike Braunwald for a reason. It was a pretty worthwhile reason, turns out.